LPGA's best have bigger plans in store for 2014

By Randall MellNovember 25, 2013, 4:27 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The LPGA ended a remarkable season Sunday at the CME Group Titleholders, one that has its best players highly motivated to pick up where they left off when a more robust 2014 schedule begins in nine weeks.

Rolex No. 1 Inbee Park, No. 2 Suzann Pettersen and No. 3 Stacy Lewis waged a terrific battle for supremacy of the women’s game this year. They combined to win nearly half the tour events (13/28) and all the majors. Park made a historic run at a Grand Slam after winning the year’s first three majors. Pettersen and Lewis responded with hot second halves.

The trio expects their clashes for the game’s big prizes to continue into next season. They also expect the challenges Shanshan Feng and Lexi Thompson mounted, with strong late-season finishes, to continue into 2014. There also will be more of Lydia Ko to contend with as a pro, and the comeback of Ariya Jutanugarn, a giant talent who looked poised to make a run at the world’s best before injuring her shoulder in June.

Actually, the season isn’t officially over for Park and Lewis.

Park, 25, is scheduled to play in the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters in Taiwan in two weeks. That’s a co-sanctioned Taiwan LPGA and Korean LPGA event. Lewis will play in the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters the same week. That’s a Ladies European Tour event. Pettersen is taking the rest of the year off.

“I think it’s just going to be a continuation of this year,” Park said of the pressure she expects Lewis and Pettersen to apply trying to take her No. 1 ranking in 2014. “I think a lot of players are going to be competitive next year, but I think Suzann and Stacy are going to be very competitive.”

After Swinging Skirts, Park will take a long break back home in South Korea before embarking on a new preseason preparation plan. She will head to the Gold Coast of Australia a few weeks before the start of the 2014 LPGA season to begin training for the new year. In the past, she has flown to Los Angeles to train. She expects she will skip the LPGA season opener in the Bahamas and make her first LPGA start at the ISPS Handa Australian Women's Open in February.

Park won a tour-best six LPGA titles in 2013, including those three majors. Even with that year, Park felt Pettersen and Lewis stepping up the pressure on her in the second half. Watching Park win the U.S. Women’s Open in June sparked something in Park’s strongest rivals. Lewis won the next major, the Ricoh Women’s British Open. Pettersen won the last major of the year, the Evian Championship. All the while, Park cooled off, decompressing from all the pressure that built up in a Grand Slam quest.

Can Park top 2013?

“I thought I probably wouldn’t be able to play as well as I did last year, but I played better this year,” Park said. “There is definitely room to improve next year. I probably have a little more pressure on me next year, but I think I had a lot of pressure this year, so I think a little bit more doesn't really make a difference for me. I think as time goes by, I'm going to be a little bit more used to it and a little bit more mature.”

Lewis, 28, said she definitely wants to take a couple weeks away from her golf clubs, but she’s eager to build on what’s working with her game. She won three times in 2013, including her second major. That’s one less victory than she recorded winning the Rolex Player of the Year title last year, but she believes she’s a better player now.

“When I look back, I think this year was a better year than last year,” Lewis said. “It’s just Inbee and Suzann played unbelievable.”

Lewis recorded a staggering 19 top-10 finishes this season, up from 16 a year ago. She won the Vare Trophy with a scoring average almost a full stroke better than last year. She believes she’s a better driver today than a year ago, but she would like to become more consistent with her putter.

“I’ll definitely take a couple weeks off, but I don’t think I’ll take as much time off as I did last year, just because I’m excited where my game is at,” Lewis said. “I feel like if I can shore up a couple things, I’ll be right where I need to be.

“It’s been a great season, but I can also look back at points where I can be better. That’s what’s exciting to me. I can have a good year like this and still have things to work on, and ways to improve. So, I’m looking forward to next year and trying to do it again.”

Pettersen, 32, is intent on gaining the No. 1 ranking for the first time in her career. She’s within striking distance.

“If I never thought I was going to become the world No. 1 player, I don't think I would be sitting here today,” Pettersen said last week. “I think I would have quit a long time ago. That is what keeps me going. I'm probably now more keen and eager to get up in the morning to do the stuff that I know is needed to get there. But, like I’ve said, this is not a short-term goal. I know I'm going to get there, eventually, but I just don't want to get there and disappear, I want to get there and dominate.”

Consider the gauntlet thrown down for 2014.

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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.


The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.

Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”